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Russia accuses Ukraine of ‘nuclear terrorism’ as UN agency races to create Zaporizhzhia safe zone

The Independent logo The Independent 06/12/2022 Arpan Rai
SEI129890307.jpg © AP SEI129890307.jpg

Russia has accused Ukraine of threatening the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant with constant shelling to create the image of a “nuclear catastrophe”, claiming Vladimir Putin’s soldiers are the ones keeping the facility safe.

It comes as the UN’s nuclear power agency is engaged in talks to protect the Zaporizhzhia plant, which has been occupied by Russia since the early stages of its invasion. Ukraine strongly denies attacking the site and instead accuses Russia of shelling in its vacinity.

"Our units are taking all measures to ensure the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant," Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu told his military chiefs on Tuesday.

"In turn, the Kyiv regime seeks to create the appearance of a threat of a nuclear catastrophe by continuing to deliberately shell the site," the top minister said in a conference call, an abridged transcript of which was published by the defence ministry.

He accused the country under Russian siege of firing 33 large-calibre shells at the plant in the last two weeks, without providing evidence.

Russian air defences had managed to intercept most of these, he said, but added that "some still hit objects that affect the safe operation of the nuclear power plant".

Mr Shoigu said Russia classifies these “attacks by Ukrainian troops as nuclear terrorism”.

The Volodymyr Zelensky administration has denied shelling the facility, and the Ukrainian president has repeatedly called for removal of Russian forces from the plant in his nightly addresses, stating that Moscow’s soldiers are inflicting terror on the nuclear facility and by extension the wider continent.

The plant is being used by Russia as a de facto weapons depot, according to Kyiv.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – has urged the Russian authorities to help create a security zone around the plant to avert a potential Chernobyl-like disaster.

On Tuesday, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said that there were “positive dynamics” in discussions with the IAEA on the idea, reported Russian news agency TASS.

It represents a glimmer of hope for progress on the diplomatic front, with little chance of peace talks to end the wider conflict at present. The Kremlin said it does not see the prospect of negotiations at the moment, though it agreed with the US on the need for lasting peace in Ukraine.

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"That the outcome should be a just and durable peace – one can agree with this. But as for the prospects for some sort of negotiations, we do not see any at the moment," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Russia would need to fulfil the goals of its “special military operation” for talks to happen with any potential partner, Mr Peskov said. The term is a euphemism Moscow uses to describe its continuing invasion – referring to it as a “war” between the two nations is banned in Russia itself.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken had said earlier that the war in Ukraine would end "almost certainly with diplomacy" and negotiations, and that "just and durable peace" was needed.

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